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10.21.12 The Humble God, Hebrews 5.1-10, Sermon Summary

by on October 24, 2012

When two disciples ask Jesus for VIP seating in the kingdom of God, the other ten became indignant—not because they were more humble, but because they didn’t ask first.

Summary Points

  • Confusion about the kingdom of God
  • Two surprising answers to questions about God’s kingdom
  • Two characteristics of those who live the kingdom
  • Two ways to grow as a kingdom dweller

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we get a little confused about the nature of God’s kingdom. Jesus taught us to pray the Lord’s Prayer because to God belongs the, “kingdom, power, and glory forever.” (Search this blog for messages on each petition of the Lord’s Prayer.) That’s what we say, but what we envision is, “castles, armies, and gold for eternity.” So who can blame the disciples for wanting VIP seats?

When we assume, consciously or not, that wealth and health are “God’s blessings” (and that poverty and sickness are God’s curses), when we pray for and celebrate victory because “God is on our side,” this shows that we are as confused about the nature of God’s kingdom as his first disciples.

Today’s reading from Job reflects this confusion well. Most of the book of Job is characterized by these misguided assumptions about God’s kingdom. Job’s question is, “How can God still be king, when everything is so wrong?” At the end of the book, God offers a surprise answer, basically that things can appear “so wrong” when we forget the majesty of God. (See my earlier message on this here.)

Jesus offers another surprise answer, a surprise because it goes in exactly the opposite direction as God’s answer at the end of Job. There was no one more concerned with the kingdom of God than Jesus. It was Jesus who revealed that, “the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:21) The primary reason the New Testament authors wrote was because they were convinced that God’s kingdom had come in Jesus Christ. Jesus embodied, revealed, manifested, and demonstrated the kingdom. Jesus, more than any other person, lived the kingdom.

What does it look like to live the kingdom of God? Jesus’ example answers this question. First, Jesus served others. He touched the untouchable, healed the forsaken, provided for the needy, and ate with outcasts. If there was someone in need, no matter what kind of need or how they came to have it, Jesus was there.

Second, Jesus trusted God for the outcomes. When James and John asked for the VIP seats, Jesus responded that it was God’s and not his to grant. But behind that answer is the invitation, “Follow me, and trust God, and I will lead you to the kingdom.”

How can you and I live the kingdom today? How can we follow Jesus to the kingdom in our lives? Where did Jesus get this kind of faith to serve others and trust God for the outcomes?

First, it helps to know who you are, or better, whose you are. Jesus recognized that he was chosen by God, that he was called by God. The reading from Hebrews reminds us that all priests must be called by God—they cannot aspire to this kind of ministry on their own. Jesus was called by the Spirit into this ministry of priesthood at his baptism.

In the same way, in our baptism we are also called. This is why Jesus says to his disciples that they will indeed be baptized with his same baptism, and drink from his same cup. Our union with Christ, sacramentally effected in baptism and the Lord’s Supper, means that we share his same calling. We too are chosen by God for this priesthood, this ministry of service to others and this trust in God for results.

Second, Jesus was humble before God. Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “learned obedience through suffering.” Serving others requires “suffering” to our ego. To serve others, we have to make space and time for others. We have to give of ourselves to serve others, and the ego experiences this as suffering. I like the old King James rendering of that classic phrase from Jesus to, “suffer the children come to me.” (Mark 10:14) “Let them come,” is what he means. “Get yourself out of their way. Let your ego suffer a bit so these little ones have opportunity to come to me.”

There are two aspects to this kind of “suffering,” this kind of service to others at the expense of our egos. The first is more passive. It’s being hospitable, treating others like treasured guests, making our lives accessible to others. The other is more active. It’s willingly giving of yourself to the point of sacrifice. It’s extravagant generosity. And in both aspects, like Jesus, we are to trust God for the results.

Jesus is, of course, our example. And the ultimate example he provided came on the cross where he actively sacrificed himself and passively made space for us in the divine life. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus offered, “prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears” as he trusted God with his life. It says Jesus was, “made perfect” through this suffering, which refers not to a moral rectitude but to completeness and fullness. And with this example before us, Hebrews says, Jesus is now the “source of eternal salvation” for all who will follow him.

It’s true that God is majestic, as the book of Job and the Psalm teaches us. But as Jesus revealed to us, God is also humble. And it is this humble God who saves us. Karl Barth said, “In the humiliation of the Son of God there is actualized and revealed the exaltation of the Son of Man, and our own exaltation in Him as Brother and Head.” (Barth, CD IV/2 p. 355)

We can all have what James and John and the ten other disciples wanted—we can all experience exaltation in God’s kingdom. It comes by following the humble God revealed in Jesus Christ. To sit in the kingdom of God, one must first serve in the kingdom of God.

Jesus you call us to live in the Kingdom of God. You showed us what that means: welcoming the stranger, caring for the needy, giving of ourselves sacrificially. You call us to be children of God, to share your baptism, born of water and the Spirit. You call us to be your Body, broken and given for the life of the world. You call us to the perfection of your work by the power of your Spirit. We thank you for choosing us, for calling us, and for remaining in prayer for us as we strive to do your will. Guide us we pray, as we desire to be your disciples. Amen.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What are some of the ways your understanding of God’s kingdom has grown throughout your Christian life? In what ways is your understanding of God’s kingdom still confused?
  • Jesus lived in God’s kingdom because he was secure in his identity in Christ. How confident are you about God’s claim upon your life?
  • In what ways would you say you are humble, and in what areas could you grow in humility? How does a lack of humility inhibit your living in God’s kingdom?
  • In what ways do you passively and actively “suffer” in humble service to others?
  • Do you trust God with the results of this “suffering?” When you show hospitality or give to others, do you expect a return? Or are you content to leave the results to God so long as you are faithful to live in God’s kingdom?

 

 

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